Ants From Up There is out now!
Image: Rosie Foster
British experimental group Black Country New Roads have just unveiled their highly anticipated second album, Ants From Up There. We caught up with band members Tyler Hyde, Lewis Evans and Charlie Wayne to chat about the record, the bands future following vocalist Isaac Woods' departure and so much more!
For anyone who might not know, can you tell give us a brief little origin story of how Black Country, New Road came to be?
TYLER HYDE: Well we all lived in Cambridge, apart from Georgia. We met at like 16 in school and met through friendship groups. We weren't initially in a band together, and then we ended up being in a band together and that band ended. And then Black Country New Road came.
Congratulations on your new album Ants From Up There, it’s a great body of work. It’s pretty much dropping almost a year to the day since your debut. What did you learn whilst making For The First Time that you were able to implement into your process when it came to working on Ants From Up There?
LEWIS EVANS We wanted to make a full album that felt more like a body of work. The first record was a good glimpse of where we were at as a band, like two years of being in existence. The songs weren't channeled into making an album, the songs were just the ones that we had. This was actually written for an album, you know, all these songs. So I think we really wanted that and we also, I guess there was lots of things we learned, like also wanting to go away, get out of London to do it. That was helpful. We'd known that we wanted to make it sound even more like we sound when we play live.
Yeah, it definitely captures that live energy. You guys extend upon your sonic palette this time around, weaving in threads of classical minimalism, indie-folk, pop and alt rock. What prompted you to pushing the boundaries of your sound on this record?
CHARLIE WAYNE: I think it sort of just kind of goes back to what Lewis was saying and actually that, like we wanted to, I guess sort of push the boundaries, but it was more kind of like actually exploring a slightly smaller space of opportunity and kind of seeing what we could do from there really. When you limit yourself, you kind of tend to be slightly more creative in sort of what you do song to song and trying to make a kind of consistent body of work. Also, I mean we kind of wanted just to switch up the sound because I think that for us, we'd been making music that sounded relatively similar to Black Country New Road, like with all the sort of like relying on big loud distortion. We'd sort of been that for like a few years. And so I think it kind of made sense to want to do something slightly different.
Your debut album was quite bold and innovative and earned critical acclaim, it was nominated for the mercury music prize. Like I just said, you continue to take us to new places Ants From Up There. Was there any fear shifting gears on your sophomore, instead of repeating the formula of your debut?
T: What the hell was the formula of the debut? I feel like there wasn't one [laughs]. It was just chaos. Let's say there was a formula to the first one, we were kind of doing the opposite of that really. The first one was written for live performance and was totally reliant on live reaction. The audience was integral to the making of that one. We didn't really rely on ourselves that much, to be honest. Whereas the second one, first of all, lockdown so obviously we couldn't play gigs, but that meant that it was just the seven of us in a room. So the formula was pretty much just like interrogating every part. Everything therefore becomes incredibly, like a hundred percent purposeful in all of the songs. We had a better idea of what was going on. I guess it wasn't chaotic. Therefore it was very structured.
L: Shit, that was deep.
C: Yeah, that was crazy.
T: Was it?
L: You had me thinking about things [laughs].
Now there isn’t one distinct conceptual thread that runs through the lyrical nature of the album, I think essentially the songs capture universal experiences life that bind us all together. Can you give us a bit of insight into the development of themes explored on the record?
L: Yeah, it all started with Basketball Shoes, that was written in like, that was finalised in 2019, in the late summer of 2019 as I've recently just discovered for some reason someone knows that.
T: Charlie's got a voice memo.
C: Yeah. I've got that.
L: There's an old voice memo that is kind of earliest stage of that song in 2019. We really liked that and I think I remember saying to Isaac this is really strong, this song, it's got like a lot of really strong moments and that we should use this as the kind of stimulus for the whole album. The whole album around it kind of like you develop a team around one football play, you know? We were like, 'okay that sounds, that sounds great, let's use some of those themes'. I think the original plan was to have that melodic motif come in on quite a few more of the tracks or at least more of the songs on the album being inspired by it. But I think we realised then it might actually be a bit much. But yeah, we really wanted to do some kind of like 'what's going on style' motivic kind of song cycle album. "Intro" has that has that motif in it, The Place Where He Inserted the Blade, Georgia plays it in Concorde. At one point I play it in Bread Song. So it is scattered around the album that motif and I think that was the initial through line idea, I guess. Just having that motif over and I think the shapes and the structure of Basketball Shoes really kind of describes the different style and moods that you got on the album as well. You've got the kind of beauty and nice melodic stuff, and you've got the kind of slightly bigger, bolder post Rocky thing. And then you've got the huge community choir vibes as well. So it's like a nice representation of the whole album in one song right at the end.
Which three songs off the album would you pick to play to someone who had never heard your music, to make them an instant fan?
C: Oh, a die hard fan.
Yep, they're at every show from then on, they've got the t-shirt [laughs].
T: I'm not so you'd wanna go watch Die Hard after listening to this album.
C: [Laughs] That was epic, nice one. Um, I would get them to Basketball Shoes because that's like the first and that's just like the kind of the basis for the whole album as Lewis quite rightly said. And then I's get them to listen to Bread Song because I think that's the best, like live take of anything that we've ever performed together, full stop. It's just like the perfect, like normally when you're in the studio trying to kind of like, you're trying to get a take, that's sort of as good as something that you've done live before, but that was just like the best thing that we've kind of ever done in the studio live. It was just wicked. And then I'd get them probably to listen to Good Will Hunting just because it's a lot of fun.
T: Whoa. That's rogue.
C: Yeah, fuck it. Because no one else would suggest it.
T: But what about like Snow Globes?
C: Yeah. I'm sticking with mine, it's like it's it's 8:00 AM and a thing like, you know?
L: Fuck yeah the experimental ones.
T: What about The Place Where He Inserted the Blade?
L: Yeah, The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.
C: Yeah. No, I mean to be fair, if you really wanna be like a diehard fan then yeah listen to "he Place Where He Inserted the Blade.
T: I really think all of us at one point would've said The Place Where He Inserted the Blade, but the process of recording that was so long and I found it not destructive, but it is definitely tainted my love of that song. Just because it was so difficult to record. And I think maybe that was partly because of how much we all loved it and we wanted it to be perfect.
L: It was Charlie with those damn bright symbols. That's what it was, and you damn well know that it is
C: I was gonna say I had a wonderfull recording that one because I actually left the studio for the whole post production, went on holiday to Italy. It was really nice.
Is there any line, lyric or motiff on the album that you find will get stuck in your head more often than not? Maybe whilst your doing the dishes, or going for a run.
T: Probably Good Will Hunting.
L: Yeah, when Isaac goes "Everyone will say it was cool", that's cool. That's probably the funniest vocal moment on the album. That's so funny and awesome obviously, but it's just jokes.
C: That one has the best tempo for going for run.
L: Have you gone for a run to it? [laughs]
C: I've never gone for run, in the academic circle, in running blogs, I shared the whole album and the consensus is pretty unanimous [laughs].
[Laughs] Love it! It's awesome. You announced overnight that your vocalist Isaac Woods has departed the band, but that you are continuing to work on new music. What does the future of Black Country, New Road look like?
L: Well, obviously fairly different, but we're just gonna try and mix it up and like never try and stay on two feet. if that's the term, I don't know if it is?
If it's not, it is now!
C: Yeah, a new phrase discovered.
L: Thanks, new character unlocked! We're gonna just try and switch up who's doing vocals a bit. So it's a little bit less stuck in and it just takes pressure off. Because things like this happen when there's built up pressure on someone. When you have to go and play these gigs, if you are maybe not feeling very good on a day, but you still have to do it. There's like people there waiting for you. It's not really fair that I can just hide behind my saxophone if I'm feeling a bit shit, but he can't do that. So yeah, switching up the vocalists so this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Kind of having a bit of rotating vibe, at the moment we're working on some of Tyler's songs, just trying to develop them. See if, if they work then great then we start doing some of that. But I think I'm definitely gonna try singing.
T: Everyone is.
Biggest musical influences? C: Probably the film Luca. That was a massive musical influence for me.
T: I mean, if we're talking about this album, then you've gotta say Funeral by Arcade, Fire.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
L: Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood?
C: Oh, such a wicked one. That's a great album.
T: I'm going to say Blonde by Frank Ocean.
L: Yeah, that as well.
T: That would be a collective answer
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
T: I was gonna say Interstellar.
L: Any of the Olympus Has Fallen franchise, starring Gerard Butler.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
T: Miley Cyrus.
L: Miley Cyrus. Yeah.
C: Hannah Montana.
T: Fuck off Charlie, you're just saying that to be different. You're not different. [laughs]
First concert you went to? L: Mine was actually jazz gig, a guy called Finn Peters. A modern jazz gig at Swansea University when I was like nine
C: That's, cool. Mine was I went to go see Kelis and I watched two dads have a fight.
C: It was at a festival and we went to go and watch Kelis and it was like during the day and when she did Milkshake, like one dad with his kids went up to go and like started dancing with his kids, but another dad with his kids were having like a picnic right next to the front, which made no sense. And he accidentally like stood the other dad's picnic and then they started fighting while she was singing "my milkshake brings all the boys the yard". And it was a pretty, it was cool actually. Looking back on it now after all the trauma. It's pretty cool.
T: I remember my first gig was, well the gig that I asked to go to was Avril Lavigne. My mum took me and I looked basically the same as her. I had like straightened mousey brown hair. I had like the wrists warmers with like studs on it and I had a tie and a vest and baggy trousers. Dream come true.
Best concert you have been to? C: Oh, Sophie definitely, in 2016. That was like the best thing I've ever seen as well.
L: Probably like the first ever Black Midi gig. That was awesome.
T: I loved Richard Dawson at End Of The Road. We were all there. The way he opened, it was the best opening. He sang this like acapella, like 15 minute song that was from like his first album that I'd never heard before.
L: It was about a 12th century quilt maker.
T: Yeah. The melody is beautiful also on the same stage, like two years before, I caught the end of LOW's set and they played Nothing But Heart. That was one of the best experiences I've ever seen. So two on the same stage at the same festival.
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
C: Bland Spice.
L: Eloquent Spice.
C: No, I'd be Long Sighted Spice.
T: I can't think of mine. Can someone give me one?
L: Allergy Spice
C: Gluten Intolerant Spice? [Laughs].
T: That doesn't define me.
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
L: Yeah, some good and some bad. I remember we played We Out Here Festival, not that long ago in the Cambridgeshire countryside on the main stage, the one before the main headline one or maybe two before. And it was just so wrong crowd for us to be playing there and we were playing mostly new music, mostly quite badly [laughs]. It was like such a sort of bad, bad vibe. But then I also remember Green Man in like 2019 being like probably the best we'd ever played. But that was only old songs so I don't know, it's probably not as good as the best ones that we've done on the tours or something, I guess like Paris, the last show we did before we went home from the tour, was pretty epic. That was pretty amazing.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
T: Ed Sheeran.
C: That guy changed the game forever. I mean, it's probably like Paul McCartney, isn't it?
T: Yeah. That's a fair shout.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
T: Mine was like the first fantasy that I had as a kid. When you wanna be like an astronaut or a vet or whatever, mine was rockstar and it never stopped.
L: I wanted be a footballer for most of my childhood and then kind of like slightly gave up on that dream. It's still there a little bit, you know? But yeah, I was like probably age 11 and like, 'yeah, I guess I'll do this then, seems like the most logical thing to do'.
C: For me it's when I got turned down from Oxford and Harvard. Yeah.
L: "Oh, well gonna have to be a rockstar then aren't I" [laughs].
Ants From Up There is out now!